The King’s Gambit: Early fireworks in the chess opening

Chess opening analysis in the KGA

The King’s Gambit Accepted (KGA) is a complex chess opening. It’s hard to call it a system, where you create a pawn center, develop pieces, castle and inch forward towards your opponent’s king. When you play the King’s Gambit, anything can happen. That’s because your opponent has a wide range of choices that can send the game into uncharted waters.

Unlike other chess openings, it’s hard to memorize a lot of moves in the KGA. Things get complicated too quickly for that. Instead, your are forced to start calculating from the get go. From my perspective, that is how things should be. It’s fine to have a general understanding of the opening but once you start relying on memory over calculation, we run into problems.

At the amateur level, it is important to focus on calculation. That’s why I recommend playing the KGA. Understanding themes and ideas is important but if you play the KGA, you will need to start calculating earlier than in most openings.

Vienna Game [C25]
3 minutes 2 sec. blitz

Going astray early in the opening

It’s hard to understand how the outcome of a game can be decided as early as the fifth move. But that is what happened here. Failing to grab the initiative leads to passive play which Black was quick to pounce on.

The following game transpose to a Vienna Game. This can happen when White plays Nc3 (The Quaade Gambit) early in the KGA. You will see a lot of blunders in this game coming from both sides. It shows the innate complexity of KGA positions and how important it is to calculate your moves in advance.

Post-Mortem Analysis

The importance of the initiative. A pawn sacrifice makes sense when it leads to a lead in development or seizing the initiative. This is not an exact science of course. In a gambit openings like the QGD, KGA or Smith Morra, pawns are the least of your concerns. That doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind though.

In the following position, 9…Qe7 should be met with c3. The f7 square is so weak that If Black takes on e4, White can sacrifice with Nf4, equalizing.

The King's Gambit:  Early fireworks in the chess opening
White has to open the f-file and pressure f7 or he is lost.

Remember the theme of the chess opening. The KGA concentrates on a build up on the f-file and the f7 square. Had I remembered this, I might have realized the importance of opening the f-file with g3 and later Nxf4.

Closing thoughts

My opponent played well, especially early in the game. He found the accurate Nc6, followed by Bg7 and quickly brought his pieces to bear on the center. Despite him blundering in time pressure, he played a very inspired offense.

Move orders matter. Castling on the sixth move looks simple enough but nuance matters. Playing d4 immediately opens the diagonal for the c1 bishop and threatens to break up Black’s pawn majority with h4. See diagram below:

The King's Gambit:  Early fireworks in the chess opening
Black to play after 6. d4

Now 6…d6 can be met with the immediate h4. White can lift his queen to d3 and if Bg4, White can counter with Bb5 pinning the knight. The point is, there are many more options available.

I researched this line in John Shaw’s excellent chess opening book, The King’s Gambit. John’s analysis of this opening is both thorough and interesting. He uses his GM understanding coupled with with the assistance of a chess engine. He does this to ensure that the analysis is as accurate as possible. He concludes that if Black plays an early g4, White is obliged to castle and sacrifice the knight. This leads to a line known as the Muzio Gambit, which, according to Shaw is rarely seen over the board.

The fact that this game ended in a draw is a testament to how challenging this opening can be for amateurs. It’s also a lot of fun!

Are you a King’s Gambit player? Why or why not? Please post a comment below!

Improve your online chess

Improve your online chess

Weekly chess meet-ups against players you know can help you improve your online chess. Chess understanding has a lot to do with pattern recognition — seeing a particular position and knowing how to play against it. By playing the same opponents on a regular basis, you get a feel for the openings they play and how to adjust your strategies accordingly. It’s more than just openings though. You learn to play against a particular style.

Below are a series of games I played against my friend Fritz on Lichess last week. I’ve mentioned him before in other posts. He has a very aggressive style that is fun to play against. I won the majority of the games but I was not happy with the quality of the wins. In many of the games I was worse and managed to fight back through tactical means. This is not the way I prefer to win. Excellence in chess is playing well in all phases of the game; a well fought game, free from major mistakes. You will see that I made a series of positional misjudgments that I need to work on.

Review the games, read my notes and let me know what you learned from my analysis. Please add anything you feel I missed in the comments below.

Game#1 A bad bishop cut off from the battle

Game#2 Strong center, weak king

Game#3 No trades during a winning attack

Game#4 Up a rook? Watch for counter play

Game#5 A simple recapture leads to a loss

Game#6 Opposite side castling duel

Game#7 – A Comedy of Errors

Improve your online chess – takeaways from these games:

  • Pawns storms should not be ignored.  Often times,  moving your pawns creates more weaknesses than strenghts.  Moving  pieces out of the way was the theme in several of these games.  Moves like Nfd2 or Nh5 are strong in that they avoid the pawn storm and threaten to occupy key squares.
  • Chipping away at a strong center can lead to a winning attack.  This is particularly true when your opponent has not fully developed his pieces.  Lack of development almost always leads to counter play from the other player – even when he has a strong center.
  • Avoid trading pieces indiscriminately.  Amateurs love to trade pieces – I know because I do it all the time.  They often do this because they can’t think of anything better to play.  Trading pieces is part of the game but this should only be done if it benefits you.  When a player is under siege,  his best  defense is to try and trade off his opponents pieces.  After all, an army with less men is less effective.  Don’t help your opponent trade off pieces unless it benefits you.  This is one of the top problems amateurs need to improve on. Want to improve your online chess? Be careful about trading pieces too quickly!
  • Open lines for your pieces.  This is particularly true for rooks and bishops.  In game six, I was quick to play Nd5, but after Black recaptured, my d5 pawn cut off the scope of my g2 bishop.  If Black played more accurately, he might have secured a draw.
  • Be wary of weak squares.  Playing an early h5 has it’s drawbacks. It weakens the g5 square and invites a future g4 from your opponent.  In game five, my opponent was able to put his knight on g5 with impunity.  I suffered through the rest of the game. Defense is important but keep an eye on weakening squares around your king that you cannot defend. 
  • Pace yourself. Try to average a move every 5-10 seconds.  Allow yourself only a few exceptions to that rule. 

To improve your online chess, start by analyzing your games – wins and losses.  Although I won this online chess blitz match 7-1,  I was concerned with the quality of my play.  In many of the games, I either blundered or was outplayed.  I was fortunate to take advantage of my opponents mistakes.  Now, I know some of you are thinking that that is part of blitz chess –  and you are right,  but it’s important to keep a high standard in the quality of your play.  

Piece placement is perhaps one of the most important areas that separates amateurs from masters.  For future games, I am going to focus on:

  • Placing (and sometimes leaving) my pieces on good squares.
  • Opening lines of attack for my bishops and rooks, even if this comes at the expense of a pawn.

What are your thoughts?  Did you see anything else in these games that I missed?  Do you suffer from similar problems in your own game?

Tell us how you improve your online chess.

Please share in the comment section below!

Play chess at lunch

Eat lunch, improve your chess.
improve your chess at lunch

In order to improve your chess game you need to play regularly. The slower the time control the better. Why? Because you need to spend time at the board, recognizing familiar patterns and applying your knowledge to your own games. Blitz chess is fun and so is bullet, but they don’t allow you the time to deeply analyze critical positions. It is during this analysis that your chess skills begin to improve.

I’ve written a lot about the value of playing slow chess. I gets lots of e-mail from people who tell me they simply don’t have the time to play classical chess time controls. That’s fine. Blitz is too fast, slow chess takes too long. Fortunately, there is a middle-ground: rapid chess.

Rapid chess time controls are more than 10 minutes but less than 60. That is quite a range. This allows for a variety of time controls time controls designed to encourage thinking over reaction time. One of the more popular rapid settings is 15 10, or game in fifteen minutes with each move adding 10 seconds to the clock. It should be noted that 15 15 is considered classical time controls. Just a five second difference separates rapid from classical chess!

The typical rapid game takes anywhere from 30-45 minutes. It is rare to see a game taking more than an hour. In fact, of all the games I’ve played, not a single one has extended more than that.

Eat lunch, improve your chess

A lunch hour is the perfect setting to play rapid chess. There are only a couple of things to keep in mind. First, you will need to go somewhere you will not be disturbed. An outside park bench or a break room are the best places. Second, you will need to play chess on either your smartphone or a tablet. Either one is fine but you need a portable device that you can manipulate without the distractions of work in the background.

Taking a break from work is important. The good thing about playing chess is that it’s hard to think about work when you’re fighting for equality, a pawn down in a rook and pawn ending.

Slower chess = better quality

Here are a couple of games I played at work during my lunch hour. I think you’ll see the quality of play is better and more thoughtful. Are there blunders? Sure, but not like you would find in a traditional blitz game. If you want to improve your chess, playing slow chess is critical.

This first game features a Sicilian Defense. Black begins a slow but methodical build-up on the queenside. White falls behind in development that costs him the center and control of the board.

From lunch the following day:

An offshoot of the King’s Indian Attack with b3 played. This is a game where I was outplayed and was dead lost in the middlegame. Despite the series of bad moves from moves 24-27 , it shows how having extra time can help you save a lost position.

If the quality of chess games is better with slower time controls, how do I explain that terrible 24 Rdc1?? That’s a good question. This is an important mistake, one that would normally be explained as a result of time trouble — and who could argue that point? In this case, time was not the reason – arrogance was. I simply refused to play Ng4 which would have left me worse but not lost.

Making mistakes is part of the game. But when you make outright blunders in slow time controls, it highlights weak areas in your game. A lack of patience and calculation is what caused me to play Rdc1 so quickly. So, the moral of the story is I need to play moves that I am not necessarily happy with if I want to stay in the game. Feeling gratified that an opponent won’t capitalize on your mistakes is not a good excuse for making bad moves. It certainly won’t improve your chess either. In the future, I will need to put aside my impatience and play Ng4!

3 best chess endgame books you must own

bestchess endgame books

What are the best chess endgame books?

As chess amateurs, we are told that the best way to improve our game is to study chess endgames. Doing so helps us to calculate, which is critical to becoming a better chess player. The more you can calculate, the better you will play. Endings teach more than just calculation though. They teach us the importance of efficiency – something that is magnified in the ending.

If you have develop good endgame skills, your chess will improve dramatically. Books show us the deeper value of endgame knowledge. They explain how to transition from the middlegame to an ending – a critical skill for amateurs to understand. Most of your opponents know very little about endgame play. Therefore, a basic understanding of endings will give you a great advantage over the competition.

There are many chess endgame books on the market but finding the right one can be a challenge. Some books are very technical and require a lot of patience to get through. Others sometimes focus on one area such as minor piece endings. In this post, I will cover three books from my chess library that I feel any aspiring chess player should own.

1. Endgame Magic by John Beasley & Timothy Whitworth

3 best chess endgame books you must own3 best chess endgame books you must own

This is a book about endgame studies. A study is a composed problem developed by the author. It highlights various endgame themes for the reader to practice. I used to dislike these kinds of books because the positions are not from real games. This book has changed my mind. Once I started playing through the first few chapters, I realized the immense value of this book. It is filled with some amazing ideas that I never knew were possible in the game of chess.

The book has three parts: Strategic Objectives, Tactical maneuvers and The Study as a Whole. Each part has sub topics to focus the reader on key themes. Multiple diagrams are used for every problem. This is intended for the reader who might not have a chess set handy. It helps a lot. Just spending ten minutes going through a few problems will benefit your chess understanding greatly.

To illustrate this point, here is one example from the book that I would like to share with you.

3 best chess endgame books you must own
White to play and win.

The problem here is that if Re3, e1Q and if Rxe1, Black is in stalemate. So what can White do to not only avoid stalemate but to win the game?

An amazing problem from an amazing book which is filled with similar problems. Now I know where they got the title from. While this is a lesser known title, it is one of the best chess endgame books (for studies) I have found. Many of these positions really are magical!

2. 100 Endgames You Must Know: Vital Lessons for Every Chess Player by Jesus De La Villa

3 best chess endgame books you must own3 best chess endgame books you must own

This is one of the most popular endgame books currently on the market and for good reason. As the back of the book states, there aren’t many endings you need to memorize but once you understand how they work, your knowledge will never go out of date.

The book is broken down into 100 sections: Ending 1, Ending 2 and so on. At the end of each section there is a conclusion that helps the reader understand the key elements of the ending they just learned.

This is a combination of a reference book and a training manual. If you want to understand opposite-colored bishop endings, you can turn to page 105, exercise 41 and get started. The table of contents is very thorough and easy to read. The authors take a systematic approach to introducing endings to the reader.

The first chapter, Basic Endings covers some very basic concepts such as opposition, the rule of the square and pawn promotion techniques. From there, the book advances to rook and pawn endings, arguably the most common endings most of us get into. After that, more advanced endings are covered: rooks, minor pieces and king and pawn endings. This is one of the best chess endgame books currently in print. You only need to buy once and it will serve your chess needs forever.

3. Fundamental Chess Endings by Karsten Muiler and Frank Lamprecht

3 best chess endgame books you must own3 best chess endgame books you must own

Karsten Mueiler is a noted authority on chess endgames and has authored some of the best chess endgame books in print. This is clearly his best. In this reference book, he covers pawn, minor piece, rook and queen endings. These are not necessarily endings you should know. Rather, the book is a resource to tell you which side is better in virtually any kind of ending.

There are lots of exercises to test your knowledge along the way. Additionally, there are some interesting approaches to calculating how to chase down a pawn with a King. Have you ever heard about Troitsky’s Line? It is a technique you can use if there are two knights vs. a King and pawn. Depending on where your King is on the line will determine a win or a loss. Fascinating stuff.

While primarily a reference, this book is excellently written. There is lots of advice and suggestions on how to approach endgames. This book is definitely a must purchase and should be looked at regularly anytime you reach the endgame.

What are your best chess endgame books? Please share below.

Playing chess against a computer (2020)

Playing chess against a computer

In a previous post about chess motivation,  I wrote a section about the importance of playing and studying.   In this post,  I will focus on how playing chess against a computer can help improve your game.

The challenges with classical chess

Playing under classical time controls is the best way to improve your game. The problem is finding an opponent who is willing to dedicate the time to play with you. Most people don’t have an hour or two to spend playing chess several times a week. They might play in a local tournament, but are unavailable for anything outside of that. Additionally, it is hard for people to maintain their motivation to play classical chess on a consistent basis. There are so many daily distractions both at home and work that prevent players from committing to a regular play schedule.

A computer as your next chess opponent

Playing chess against a computer chess engine is an exercise in defeat. They are simply too strong. Programs like Stockfish (3500 ELO) offer reduced playing levels but even those are hard to beat. Then there is the psychological advantage. Unlike humans, chess engines do not blunder pawns or hang pieces. They don’t lose their mental focus the way a human does. And while they can be configured to play weak moves, it is still on the human to convert their advantage to a win. Computers never quit or get discouraged either and that shows in their play.

Even with these shortcomings, playing chess against a computer has its rewards too. Because they are so accurate (even at lower playing levels), you will not be able to rely on your opponent crumbling after they lose a pawn or two. Ultimately, this will help your technique and make your victory feel more rewarding.

Computers don’t have scheduling conflicts. They won’t complain about how many times you want to play them. They are the best alternative if you want to play slow games on a consistent basis. Using Chessbase’s interface to play Fritz and other UCI engines is fine but there are other alternatives too.

I consider the Chessmaster series the best programs to play if you are rated under 2200. They are designed for chess amateurs and offer a wide range of playing styles that mimic human play. So, consider using some of these programs to challenge yourself and improve your game. Playing chess against a computer has never been easier.

Chessmaster XI – your new chess sparring partner

Playing chess against a computer (2020)

Released in 2007, Chessmaster XI: Grandmaster Edition (CM11) is the latest in a series of dating back over 25 years. Unfortunately, this is difficult to find online. Try Ebay. Unlike the professional chess engines (Stockfish, Houdini, Komodo), the King engine that runs Chessmaster has an ELO around 3000 – still high enough to beat any player. But this isn’t the reason I am suggesting it. CM11 has built-in personalities designed for players at every level. Each personality has a name, a rating and a unique playing style. There is also a small write-up that explains the background of the “person” you are playing. For example:

Playing chess against a computer (2020)
A native New Yorker, Turk was raised on the mean streets and learned to play chess at a local boy`s club. Thus saved from a life of crime, Turk is nonetheless a street hustler, occasionally selling discount wares, but mostly eking out a living by challenging all comers to speed chess matches, $5.00 a game, in Washington Square.

Not only does it have a customized rating but a unique playing style too. Choose a personality that fits your playing strength and style. For me, I got crushed by Turk a few years ago and I want a revenge match. More on that in another post.

Playing chess against a computer – star in your own tournament

I use ChessMaster XI to play a series of games against one of its built-in personalities. These are customized settings where the program plays at a reduced strength. All games are played under classical chess time controls. I decide on the number of games (usually 5-7 games) and treat the event like a real tournament.  I even write down my moves. This is good practice for those of you who haven’t played in an official tournament.  It will also increase your chess motivation.

To make playing the game manageable, I give the computer 30 seconds per move while giving myself an infinite amount of time.  I don’t actually use that time though.  It just allows me the flexibility to walk away and do some household chores and then come back to the game later.  I find the quality of my play is as close to a real tournament as I can get.  

After my game is finished, it’s natural for me to want to know where I went wrong. Curiosity leads to chess motivation. This is the benefit of slow play — the ideas you had running through your head for the past couple of hours can now be dumped into a database for further analysis. So, in this case, playing leads to study.

Fidelity Chessmaster 2100

Playing chess against a computer (2020)

This is an old version of Chessmaster first released in 1989. You can play it for free online, here. This doesn’t have the feature-rich capabilities of CM11 but it’s still a lot of fun to play. I played a couple of games against games against it that I posted below.

Playing chess against a computer like CM2100 is still tough. Notice how it almost exclusively relies on tactical threats throughout the game.

Try playing a few games yourself and let me know how you do. Post your thoughts in the comments below.